Female and Male Mentors are Keys to Success for Many Top Women in PR


It’s no secret that women dominate PR jobs. The well-known data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics says the field is 60 percent female.

Yet the Biden-Harris administration made headlines when it named an all-female communication team late last year.

Making Progress

This past fall, Clorox named a female chief executive. With that, the Fortune 500 list broke its previous record; with 38 female CEOs, it surpassed the prior year’s record of 33.

Companies across the board are committing to gender diversity at a higher level. Last year, Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon committed to diversity initiatives for clients of the investment bank. More recently, Nasdaq filed a proposal to require companies have at least two diverse directors, including one female.

McKinsey’s latest “Women in the Workplace 2020” report shows that from January 2015 to January 2020, women in the C-suite increased 4 percent–not a tremendous jump, but a step in the right direction.

In 2019, California enacted a law requiring at least one woman on the board of public companies based in the state. (At the end of last year, the state added a law requiring publicly traded companies headquartered there to have at least one member on the board from an underrepresented community.)

A Grinding Halt

Despite these examples of progress, the novel coronavirus upended many women’s career trajectories.

More than 2 million women have left the workplace due to the pandemic, with more likely to follow. One-third of mothers have considered the move, according to McKinsey.

We talked to PRNEWS Top Women in PR honorees about the advancements of women in the workforce, the importance of mentorship and how the industry can help tackle the challenges of working women.

Roundtable participants included Maddi Bourgerie, director of communications and PR at RVshare; Randi Liodice, president & chief strategy officer at Kaplow Communications; Michelle Martinez Reyes, chief relations officer at Kelley Kronenberg; Liz McKenzie, head of PR and communications at Canva; Alonda Thomas, interim VP of communications/director of PR at Howard University; Megan Tuck, VP at The Bliss Group and Tracy Van Grack, SVP of communications & public policy at Revolution LLC. Responses were edited for length.

PRNEWS: Though women dominate PR jobs, senior positions have long been held by men. What are the biggest advancements that have helped to improve women’s place in the industry and the workplace?

Randi Liodice: I’ve been fortunate enough to have a number of strong female mentors who gave me the guidance to seek out opportunities that would allow me to grow. Most recently, I’ve been fortunate to work with a founder who created the agency environment she longed to experience–one where women, and mothers in particular, didn’t need to step out of their careers just as they were taking off. In doing so, she’s set an example that I hope to both emulate and continue.

Alonda Thomas: I have primarily worked for women during my career, and strong Black women at that. In the entertainment industry and higher education at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, you can find women of color in top roles. I attribute that to male presidents who support diversity and make a conscious decision to fill leadership teams with women…Having diversity champions and advocates is critical to continue progression toward equity.

Megan Tuck: I have spent the past decade of my career in a women-owned integrated communications firm that has placed many women in positions of leadership. This has allowed me to see opportunities for me to grow to senior leadership.

More women—particularly women of color—must be provided with opportunities to see themselves as critical to the creative work, with proof that they will be fairly promoted and compensated for their contributions.

Maddi Bourgerie: I have tied myself to strong women at the places I work. At first, it was by chance. My first boss was an amazing example of how to hold your own in a room full of men. She always brought her ideas to the table and did it with confidence, grace and grit. I also found that having male advocates was key. Having a male leader who saw my work ethic ultimately advanced me in the workplace.

Michelle Martinez Reyes: The best catalyst to advancement [for me] has been prominent male champions and supportive female champions already at the top. It’s ironic that it sometimes takes a man to champion you to get you in “the game,” like a club of sorts that sponsors new members.

PRNEWS: How can the role of women in PR be elevated?

Tracy Van Grack: While women comprise the majority of PR roles, they occupy a small fraction of senior leadership positions. There are a lot of efforts to rectify this disparity, including leadership development programs, women’s affinity groups, equal pay commitments, and better childcare and flexibility for working parents.

But at the end of the day, an organization that lacks gender diversity at senior levels needs to take a good look at how it values diverse perspectives more broadly. It’s about creating an environment that recognizes that diversity of all kinds creates better organizations and better results.

Even before COVID-19, the communication function in organizations was becoming a critical part of the leadership team.

The growing number of communication risks, accelerated by the rise of social media, creates an imperative for organizations to support strong PR teams.

For communications professionals to succeed in the future, they must not view themselves as megaphones for organizations’ decisions, but rather integral members of the decision-making team.

Tuck: The PR and communications industry still has a long way to go when it comes to enhancing the roles of women of color and placing them in positions to thrive over the long term.

Advocacy groups like 600 & Rising and Hold The PRess are aiming to hold the leaders in the industry—many of whom verbally committed to making change for better diversity and equity in the summer of 2020—accountable.

PRNEWS: We keep seeing reports about more women leaving the workforce because of the pandemic. There’s talk about how society at large can help move the needle forward for women, but is there anything the PR industry can do to help tackle these challenges?

Liodice: There are high expectations for women – those that society places on us and those we place on ourselves. Yet, instead of celebrating our accomplishments, we are more likely to criticize ourselves for what we haven’t achieved.

I’ve always felt that women are highly successful in public relations because of the emotional intelligence that is honed not just from our professional lives, but from our personal ones.

We need to spotlight women who have taken different paths, who define success based on their own terms and hold them up as role models for the next generation.

Bourgerie: As an industry, we should work to elevate the voices of women who have found a balance. We all know women in our organizations that can speak to this topic, and it is important to share their struggles, successes and ideas. It is the first step to changing societal norms and keeping women in the workforce.

Martinez Reyes: The pandemic has placed even more unrealistic expectations on women in the workforce...We are expected to do it all in the same space, and simultaneously, which is not achievable, particularly without assistance.

I don’t think the PR industry can directly affect that other than shedding light upon the issue to be able to continue to advance women’s’ issues all around.

PRNEWS: What advice would you give your younger self?

McKenzie: Far too often we’re our own biggest critics and find reasons to convince ourselves that we’re not good enough to take on new challenges and opportunities.

Self-awareness and personal standards can be great for helping us grow and reflect, but most of the time we’re actually doing ourselves a disservice.

The world has enough barriers without us reinforcing them with our own self-doubt. Seize the opportunity; if you don’t champion yourself, who will?

Tuck: Imposter syndrome is very real. In the beginning of my career, I tended to stay quiet in the workplace in an attempt to fly under the radar, out of the false fear that I did not belong.

In particular, as a Black woman trying to navigate a corporate world where few people looked like me, I had to overcome what imposter syndromewas telling me—that I did not deserve a seat at the table.

To my younger self, I’d say, “You deserve this opportunity, as much as any one of your peers. Now, show off.”

Martinez Reyes: The path to success is not linear; take your time. People are always in a rush to meet all these personal goals, but experience is the greatest teacher.

Thomas: Don’t worry about the entry level salaries; think long-term to the salary you could make after 10+ years in the industry.

In your first years as a professional, focus on working at places where you can gain real experience. Work on making your brand and service indispensable.

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